Inspired Words

These are the experiences of our volunteers in Guatemala.


Participant Marg Alexander volunteers one morning at a medical clinic in San Miguel Duenas.

Posted in Guatemala on February 14, 2011

This past week I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to spend a morning at the local drop-in government sponsored medical clinic in San Miguel Duenas. This clinic is open for local residents, and being an “old” nurse I was of course most interested in seeing how it was run.

You can imagine my surprise when I learned they had no doctor or nurse at the clinic and that it was staffed with two health care aides and an administrative assistant. Occasionally a doctor comes from out of town, but certainly not regularly.

Unfortunately my Spanish is virtually non-existent and the staff did not speak a word of English so there was lots of sign language and non-verbal communication throughout the morning. I have to admit I was skeptical at first, however quickly was impressed with many things, which I will outline below:

-the staff were delightful, positive and caring.

-the local residents have great faith in the clinic staff and share their health concerns willingly.

-patients visiting this clinic come with minor medical issues such as upset digestive systems, colds or coughs, abrasions or wounds requiring dressing etc. It is also a popular clinic for pregnant women and mothers with babies. Immunization and well baby monitoring is an important aspect of the care provided.

-should any young parents be reading this, you will be interested to learn that Mickey and Minnie Mouse and Pablo and Uniqua of the Backyardigans were popular characters in murals and posters in the babies and children’s examining room!

-EVERY patient leaves with pills, ointment or some form of medication. When I questioned this I was told that if a patient leaves a doctor’s office or medical clinic without something to take, they feel they have not received effective treatment!

-there was an impressive and VERY graphic array of pamphlets and posters on AIDS prevention and birth control in the waiting room.

-there appeared to be a plentiful supply of medications for a variety of ailments available for distribution by the staff. These were given without charge.

-even in third world countries government paperwork seems to flourish. Staff were constantly busy recording by hand, every patient’s name etc. along with their complaint and the treatment given for submission to the government.

As with most new experiences there were also a few surprises, such as the fact that there is virtually no hand washing by staff between patients and no disinfecting of equipment such as examining tables, baby scales etc. Needless to say this concerned me a great deal. In between patients I did have time to peruse some of the statistical charts on the wall. It was disturbing to see that high infant mortality remains a serious problem.

My time at the clinic passed quickly and I left feeling that I had gained at least a small insight into this one approach to medical care in Guatemala.

Marg Alexander
DWC Participant

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